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South Africa an incredibly diverse country with much to offer its growing number of tourists. Together with the miles of sandy beaches, stunning landscapes, lush winelands and unique biodiversity, South Africa is also renowned for its amazing wildlife.

However, not all visitors have the time or the resources for the full safari experience and this is unfortunately an area where unscrupulous organisations are cashing in. There are an increasing amount of facilities offering lion cub petting, elephant back riding, ostrich racing and a variety of other ‘hands-on’ wildlife experiences.

What many visitors do not realise is that South Africa is also a very popular destination for ‘trophy hunters’ and virtually all the lions offered for petting or walking will ultimately end up being used for canned hunting or the lion bone industry. Elephants undergo horrific training in order to ensure they are submissive to their handlers and safe for tourists. Virtually all wild animals, with rare exceptions, will have undergone some form of training to minimise the risk of injury to tourists although not always successfully. Young animals are torn from their families, their spirits broken, often tortured and starved.

One cannot argue that wildlife petting is a huge money-spinner and whilst the general public remains unaware of its ugly background, there will always be a market for wild animals to be exploited in this way.

At The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA), they have therefore made it their mission to prove that it is possible to have wild animal experiences that are not only profitable but also sustainable, ethical and above all sympathetic to an animal’s natural behaviour and habitat. All of their sanctuaries have a strict hands-off policy; they offer no interaction with the animals.

Amidst much scepticism, Monkeyland first opened its doors to the public in 1998, as the world’s first multi-species, free roaming primate sanctuary. The sceptics were proven wrong, and Monkeyland is now home to over 550 primates of 11 different species including apes, monkeys and lemurs, all living in harmony, free to roam the 12 hectares of natural forest. All the primates live their lives as close as possible to how they would in the wild, without interference from the human visitors.



Experienced rangers conduct guided tours where they educate the public as to each primate’s conservation status, natural history and the dangers that they face including the perils of the exotic pet trade.

With Monkeyland proving to be such an enormous success, the policy continued to encompass a sanctuary for previously captive birds. Birds of Eden was completed in 2005 and is the world’s largest single dome free-flight aviary. Some 3500 birds of over 200 species enjoy the freedom of flight within two hectares of natural forest, waterways and gardens. Visitors are free to stroll along elevated walkways surrounded by the dazzling array of beautiful birds.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden

SAASA’s latest project is a sanctuary for (mostly) African predators including apex cats, hyena and jackal together with Bengal and Siberian tigers. The Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary was completed in 2013 and encompasses an area of 17 hectares of forest and grassland, offering each of its inhabitants a natural as possible environment. All of the animals here have been rescued and the focus is very much on conservation education. The welfare of the animals is top priority, ensuring that they remain free from exploitation for the rest of their natural lives.

The Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary

The Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary

Times are changing; people are much more informed, conscious about what is right, and what is wrong.  Think “Blackfish, Extinction is Forever and Bloodlion”, hard hitting documentaries that have opened people’s eyes globally.  Social media has had a lot to do with this awareness; nothing can be hidden anymore and with all this info being available, people are able to make better-informed decisions relating to their travels. Ultimately, as result, we hope to see the end of the pet play wildlife industry soon. The multi award winning South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) sanctuaries: Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Jukani do not condone wildlife interaction, the discerning markets appreciate this. The ethical manner in which the animals are treated at the SAASA sanctuaries, topped by the fact that the animals are guaranteed forever homes, where they will never be traded with or exploited, appeals to the ethically conscious tourist market.

If the South African Tourism industry continue using wildlife for entertainment – having the animals preform for food, riding them, walking them on leashes, petting them for monetary gain, South Africa will alienate the growing responsible tourist market. 

International tourists enjoy the fact that it is now very affordable to visit South Africa; the weak Rand has made international travellers willing to tackle the long haul to South Africa because of the favourable currency exchange. The spin-off is that the emerging responsible tourist market is seeking out ethical ‘feel good’ products to support.  There has been a definite increase in support for responsible tourism attractions such as Addo National Park.

In addition to offering sanctuary to previously exploited wildlife, SAASA is also dedicated to all aspects of sustainable and responsible tourism and all three sanctuaries are Fairtrade accredited.  The SAASA sanctuaries are the only Fairtrade accredited primate sanctuary, bird sanctuary and apex cat sanctuaries in South Africa.

Our hope is that current animal sanctuaries and attractions will endeavor to cease promoting wildlife interactions and rather strive to become more responsible and seek Fairtrade accreditation.

 Source: South African Tourism Update

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